In which I rejoice: The Rebecca Watson-fueled implosion

Rebecca Watson is sort of the Kim Kardashian or Paris Hilton of the ‘skeptic’ world. She’s famous for no reason and not really qualified to add anything of any importance to anything. There are really only two reasons most Gnu Atheists even know who she is. First, she mentioned in passing something about a socially awkward guy making a pass at her on an elevator. From there a number of small feminist blogs made an issue of it. Second, PZ Myers jumped on the bandwagon in order to up his cred amongst his ilk because, apparently, he has decided to switch from being a leader amongst Gnu Atheists to a leader amongst the entirely unrelated feminists. (I’m fine with that. PZ is as bad at philosophy as Michael Hartwell or Jack Hudson; I’d rather not have a person who doesn’t even understand the difference between normative and descriptive claims leading things.) Soon after PZ almost single-handedly blew things out of proportion, he began lying about things and blaming others. It was rather pathetic, but not surprising given that we’re talking about someone who thinks that skepticism* and feminism are at all related.

Anyway. After being out of the limelight for more than a few hours, Ms. Watson has made a self-important post about why she won’t be attending the next TAM meeting. It started when the guy in charge of the meeting, DJ Grothe, made this post somewhere in the bowels of the Internet:

Last year we had 40% women attendees, something I’m really happy about. But this year only about 18% of TAM registrants so far are women, a significant and alarming decrease, and judging from dozens of emails we have received from women on our lists, this may be due to the messaging that some women receive from various quarters that going to TAM or other similar conferences means they will be accosted or harassed. (This is misinformation. Again, there’ve been on reports of such harassment the last two TAMs while I’ve been at the JREF, nor any reports filed with authorities at any other TAMs of which I’m aware.) We have gotten emails over the last few months from women vowing never to attend TAM because they heard that JREF is purported to condone child-sex-trafficking, and emails in response to various blog posts about JREF or me that seem to suggest I or others at the JREF promote the objectification of women, or that we condone violence or threats of violence against women, or that they believe that women would be unsafe because we feature this or that man on the program. I think this misinformation results from irresponsible messaging coming from a small number of prominent and well-meaning women skeptics who, in trying to help correct real problems of sexism in skepticism, actually and rather clumsily themselves help create a climate where women — who otherwise wouldn’t — end up feeling unwelcome and unsafe, and I find that unfortunate.

I have highlighted what seems to be the most offensive portion. Apparently in Watson’s head, what Gouthe said was this:

DJ was blaming women skeptics for creating an unwelcoming environment.

(Yes, that is real. I was going to put in a fake, caricature quote, but the real deal is just as good.)

Reading skills, people. Get them. This really shouldn’t be that hard: Grothe said that a small number of people were guilty of fear-mongering without justification. That isn’t to say harassment doesn’t happen. It does. And it isn’t to say that the victim is at fault. Again, reading skills: It is to say that people are fucking fear-mongering. These skeptic-jacking feminists are the FOX News pundits of the Gnu Atheists.

Again, this shouldn’t be that hard to grasp. Grothe even quoted Watson from a USA Today interview:

“I thought it was a safe space,” Watson said of the freethought community. “The biggest lesson I have learned over the years is that it is not a safe space. . . ”

He disagrees that the environment is unsafe. I don’t really doubt him. The reports are few and far between of anything happening from his account, plus there is no reason to suspect that atheists and agnostics would be different from any other gathering of average Americans. But maybe every gathering of large crowds is hugely unsafe for women and everyone has just been oblivious. Quick, tell women to stop going to Wal-Mart!

But don’t try to argue any of this to PZ, skepchicks, or any other atheism-second people or groups. They’re all in a tizzy about this. And that gives me joy. I hope more of these people will cross themselves off the list for speaking at conferences and meetings and whatever else comes up. Gnu Atheism is interesting because it takes a hardline stance against religion from a scientific perspective. That is, it takes two descriptive angles: atheism and science. Separately, these things are fine and true, but together they can be made into a powerful normative case. The feminist faction, however, wants to take their pre-formed normative position and usurp the description of science – but not to a particular end. They aren’t interested in a strong incorporation of science into feminism but rather a strong mantle-claim. If they associate themselves closely enough with science, then maybe that objectivity will rub off on feminism a tad. It, of course, won’t be used in feminism, but the faux perception will be there. I don’t support any of that.

Anyway, I’m not sure if I’m enjoying the implosion or the take-downs more. Check out this hilarity. Also take a look in the comment section. I’ve got some great quotes from Mallorie Nasrallah.

*”Skepticism” is a meaningless word at this point and I resent its use. Simply being open to the possibility that there is a God, as Dawkins and Harris and Coyne and Dennett and I are, does not make one a skeptic. We’ve already taken up our positions, just as global warming deniers skeptics have. A real skeptical position is one where there is notable doubt. For instance, I was skeptical that this home brewed beer from Nate would be that good. (It turns out it is. Well done, old chap.)

Mallorie Nasrallah

Mallorie Nasrallah is an active atheist who recently had the gall – the god damned gall! – to say that other people do not speak for her. While anyone who has wasted their time reading the feminist shell games that have dominated the atheist community as of late knows, there have been a lot of accusations that there is some especially awful stuff that happens to women at atheist conventions and atheist websites. Sometimes this is true. Other times, such as when Rebecca Watson faced the horror of being asked a question, saying “no”, and having the guy take “no” for an answer, it is not true. The latter is the case most of the time. Mallorie recognizes this:

For as long as I can remember I have been welcomed in to communities which were generally considered “sausage fests”. If not for the constant noting of this fact I would have never noticed. You guys were always just
my friends.

As I’ve gotten older these subcultures have become more vocal about wanting to include more women, the discussion has become “how can we make the community more welcoming to women”.

As a woman who has been here all along this is distressing to me, I love you guys for who you are, from my table-top strategy gaming group though my political debate forum right in to the skeptical community. You have never been anything but awesome and welcoming. Who made you think you weren’t?

I am here, in my various communities because I like you guys, and I like the basis of the movement. The idea that you have to set time aside to cater to me, because my vagina imbues me with some special needs is becoming increasingly insulting. These communities are about our minds, not our genitals and as far as I can tell my mind is just like yours.

The point is obvious. Her experience has been horribly misrepresented by the feminists faction of the atheist community. They aren’t interested in presenting reality but rather an agenda-driven account of what is happening. Again, look at the Rebecca Watson case. A man asked her back to his hotel room. He did so in an elevator, indicating to me that he was likely too nervous to ask the question in front of a bunch of people and the elevator was his first chance. He should have re-thought that one, if only because it makes for an awkward situation, but regardless, when Watson said “no”, his response was effectively, “Okay”, and that was that. Not a bit of sexism or misogyny to be found anywhere. Any reasonable person – and that includes Mallorie – will recognize the facts as such.

I am writing about this for two reasons. First, I want to once again express my exacerbation at this conflation between atheism and feminism. Neither one has anything to do with the other. Moreover, “new atheism” is about the evils and harm of religion. That needs to be the primary focus. If other people wish to focus on feminism, do it elsewhere. Second, Friendly Atheist linked to Mallorie’s Facebook profile. (Mallorie responded in the thread and did so by logging in via her profile.) I sent her a message saying she did a good job on the article, and then I sent a friend request. She accepted. From what I’ve read (most of which is public anyway), she hasn’t gotten much professional publicity from this. That wasn’t her intent at all, plus her profession is photography so this sort of topic isn’t going to help much anyway, but I figured I would do what I could to promote her work. It actually is of a pretty good quality. Take a look here and here.

I’m glad we have voices like Mallorie’s. Strong women who don’t want special care taken for them is exactly what the rhetoric of the feminist movement is seeking. It just so happens that it is those outside the movement who recognize how to achieve this.